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Release of Likeness

The generosity of blood donors gave Len a life with his grandchildren who otherwise would have never known him.

At one point, Len Anderson desperately needed donated blood to survive—not monthly or weekly, but hour-by-hour. “Depending on how deep the crisis,” he recalls, “sometimes I would only have hours between transfusions. Other times, it would pour out of me as fast as they could pour it in. I’d bleed from everywhere—even under my fingernails.”

Fatigue and bruising finally forced Len into retirement from his job as a high school teacher. “It took three years to diagnose that I had the rarest of six varieties of myelodysplastic syndrome, also known as MDS,” he said. During those three years, Len’s bone marrow failed to produce any platelets, resulting in blood that would not clot. “There were a few times when I thought I would bleed to death on the spot. And sometimes, I was real close.” A search for a bone marrow transplant match proved fruitless, which left Len completely dependent on regular transfusions for survival. In total, he received 165 units of blood.

In order to diagnose the problem, doctors suppressed his immune system to keep it from killing off bone marrow long enough to get a testable sample. “Once they found out what I had, the docs said, ‘Whoops, you’re supposed to be dead already,’” laughed Len. “But they’re so good at keeping people alive. My doctor asked the FDA to try an experimental drug on me, and it worked. I haven’t had a transfusion in ten years.”

Len made up for lost time with his grandchildren. “When I speak to people about donating blood or bone marrow, I tell them: ‘I’ve been able to do things with my seven grandchildren who would have never known me if it wasn’t for blood donors.’ Donating blood is not frivolous. When have you done something that has actually saved lives? That’s something incredibly special.”

Memorial Blood Centers was deeply saddened to learn of Len's passing on July 22, 2017. He was a dedicated advocate for blood donation in our northern Minnesota communities. He will be missed.